Monthly Archives: February 2014

Cheat’s Cheese Danish

20140223_162709When I was in New York in September, I got a taste for cheese Danish pastries. I love cream cheese in everything, so in a crumbly pastry wasn’t a difficult sell but when I got back to the UK I couldn’t find them anywhere. Necessity being the mother of invention, I found some recipes online and with a bit of experimentation I can now share with you my easy peasy cheat’s cream cheese Danish recipe which doesn’t require a few hours rolling out butter and flour.

You will need:

220g full fat Philadelphia cream cheese

50g icing sugar

2 egg yolks

Zest of 1 lemon

2 tablespoons ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

2 sheets of just roll puff pastry

Raspberry seedless jam (optional)

 

What to do:

1)      Take the pastry out of the fridge and pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius.

2)      Cream together the cream cheese and icing sugar until smooth, then stir through the egg yolk, lemon zest, vanilla and ricotta.

3)      Roll out the pastry sheet and cut into your preferred shape. Just Roll puff pastry can be cut into six even squares per sheet, or you can use a circle biscuit cutter to cut out circles of a similar size.

4)      Spoon the cream cheese mix onto the pastry, about two tablespoons per piece. If you like, add 1-2 teaspoons of raspberry jam to each one. It’s delicious.

5)      If you’re using squares, bring two opposite corners together, add a dab of beaten egg and pinch hard to seal.

6)      Paint the bare pastry with a little milk or egg to give it a brown glaze in the oven, then pop in and bake for 15-20 mins until pastry is puffed up and golden.

 

This makes an easy but impressive looking breakfast or a delicious alternative to biscuits with a good book and a cup of coffee or tea.

An Instance of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears

an instance of the fingerpost iain pears“God forbid that I should ever suffer the shame of publishing a book for money, or of having one of my family so demean themselves. How can one tell who might read it? No worthy book has ever been written for gain, I think.”

An Instance of the Fingerpost, Iain Pears

Set in 1663, twelve years after the end of the English Civil War, An Instance of The Fingerpost by Iain Pears is a bitingly clever murder mystery set in the streets and colleges of restoration Oxford. Narrated by four narrators, the reader is left to piece together the true course of events from highly unreliable narratives before discovering “the truth” in a final narrative which leaves you, despite your better judgement, unable to question the credibility of the self-proclaimed “objective” narrator.

This is simultaneously the most intelligent and most enjoyable novel that I’ve read in a very long time. It’s clearly been immaculately researched, but at no point do you feel as though you’re having a lecture on life in post-Civil War Oxford. What particularly impressed me was the way that historical characters are seamlessly woven with fictional players (in reality, most of the characters are historical characters, though the events of the novel are fictional) and familiar figures from history like John Locke and Robert Boyle drift in and out of the novel as minor players, their genius and personalities noted as incidentals in the more pressing stories the characters are telling.

I admit, that part of my fondness for this novel was the Oxford setting. The descriptions of areas that are now fairly gentrified within the city centre as filthy, run down hovels was amusing, but I especially enjoyed the description of a religious meeting in a warehouse on the quay at Abingdon (a hotbed of radicalism, apparently). I’m almost certain I know where the building the author describes must be.

If you’ve ever spent any significant time in Oxford, or are planning a little sightseeing, this is a wonderful read and one which will truly stand the test of time.

My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin (not Robert Browning…)

In Daisy Goodwin’s My Last Duchess, the hopelessly naïve, not especially bright but incredibly rich  and aptly named Cora Cash comes across the pond to England to hunt down a titled husband at her mother’s bidding, even though she half thinks she might be in love with Teddy van der Leyden, the New World’s most eligible bachelor. She meets and falls for her Duke with alarming rapidity, and much of the rest of the novel is spent trying to wedge in references to the Browning poem (numerous chapter titles are direct quotations) while still come out with a happy ending.

As a historical romance, My Last Duchess does its job. The Duke is a suitably Romantic hero, brooding and unpredictable, but for me, there wasn’t enough to convince me that he was in love with Cora or she in love with him. I might have been convinced by a spoilt American heiress’ struggle to fit in with the English aristocracy, but I didn’t buy in to the whole Malteavers/Beauchamp love affair and felt that the novel, especially the storyline surrounding the most interesting character, Bertha, were insufficiently resolved. Having said that, it was an enjoyable enough read for a Sunday afternoon, even if I did hope that Cora might eventually show a little of the spark that the other characters credited her with.

An enjoyable, if not blisteringly good, piece of genre fiction. Just a pity it had to force a comparison with Browning’s ingenious poem.

Quotes about love from young adult fiction

Happy Valentine’s Day Kiddiewinks! A little while ago I got to thinking about nostalgia, and why it is the books and songs that we like as teenagers seem to stick in our minds more than anything we read or hear before or afterwards. I read an article which claimed that it was something to do with the teenage brain not being fully developed which is why teenagers are also inclined to take more risks or something… I preferred to think that my teenage self was free from cynicism and charmingly convinced of my own immortality, but never mind…

Whatever the reason, you can’t deny that books aimed at young adults (and I include crossover books here) have some great quotes about love, the nature of love and what it feels like to be in love and since this Valentine’s I have mostly decided not to be a grumpy cynic, I thought I would share my ten favourite with you now:

All images are adapted from original artworks as indicated in the image caption under the terms of the creative commons license. Please credit the original artist (and The Book and Biscuit) if you would like to share or adapt these images.

The Ten Worst Couples in Literature?

At lunchtime in work, my friend was reading an article about the ten worst couples in literature from The Guardian in which worst means incompatible or better off apart. I didn’t really rate it as a list though, because for many of these books (Revolutionary Road, The Great Gatsby, Jane Eyre, Bridget Jones’ Diary) the reader knows that the relationship featured in the article is meant to be fundamentally flawed.

Also, major clanger on the Anna Karenina one… “Anna and Vronsky would have had life a lot easier if they had just stuck to their marital partners – Anna especially.” Well yeah, since Vronsky wasn’t actually married… :S

But how would you define the worst couples in literature? For me it would be a couple that I didn’t believe in, or didn’t care about.

Valentine’s Bird Cakes

According to tradition, St Valentine’s is the day that birds choose their mates, so I’ve decided to show my feathery friends some love on their special day by making them some Valentine’s bird cakes.

I always make bird cakes for the birds in my garden using the RSPB’s guidelines for feeding garden birds (they have some helpful hints for an easy bird cake to make with children here) but have found that smaller birds are getting pushed out by the larger ground feeding birds who’ve managed to monopolize the bird table so wanted to make something the little birds could snack on that the big birds couldn’t reach. These hanging love heart fat balls (nice!) couldn’t be easier.

love heart bird feeder cake

  1. Melt lard in a pan and stir in birdseed, oats and cheese.
  2. Press into moulds and pour a little melted lard on top to help them keep their shape before poking a plastic drinking straw through any you plan to hang.
  3. Using the drinking straw to guide you, push some twine through the fat ball and tie securely when the fat has set.
  4. String from a convenient tree and sit back and watch your birds, remembering to change the food frequently to prevent it going bad.

 

 

A Guide to Pretending to Read Literary Classics

You know how every so often you come across an article that really annoys you? So it was when I came across Huffington Post’s A Guide to Pretending to Read Literary Classics. No, it wasn’t just the awkward grammatical tense of the title, it was the principle of the thing.

I hate it when people pretend to have read books. It’s invariably because they think it will impress someone, but actually if you are having an involved conversation you can always tell. If you’re doing it to fit in with friends, it’s a little sad. If you’re doing it in an interview you just end up looking odd. My friend was having an interview to read English Lit at an Oxbridge university a few years back and a book came up in conversation that they hadn’t read it, so they tried to bluff that they had. They didn’t get the place.

If you’re the kind of person who thinks reading the classics gives you a kind of prestige (or that the books that you read are too, and I quote, “pulpy”) go to the library, take out a book and read it. Then you’ll be able to talk about it. Otherwise, and I recommend this to anyone who is truly embarrassed by the things that they enjoy, go to the library and have a rummage in the self-help section for a book on self-acceptance.

Life is too short to people please with your reading material once you’ve left school.

Hermione leaves Ron for Harry Shocker.

So once again, JK Rowling has cause a kerfuffle among her fans by coming out with another retrospective about her plotting, this time being that she feels that she shouldn’t have had Ron and Hermione end up together. Apparently her decision was wish-fulfillment for  “reasons that have very little to do with literature”. Because in good literature the hero always ends up with his best friend who he has no chemistry with, right?

While some of the fans reactions quoted in the article above are pretty funny, I can kind of see where they are coming from, because surely the great thing about Harry Potter was the concept of friendship? To reduce it to a retrospective, Harry should have gotten “the girl” (aren’t Hermione and Ginny more than just “the girl/s” dangled as rewards for the conquering hero/es?) risks devaluing some of the core values of the series.

I was a bit annoyed when JK Rowling came out with her retrospective “Dumbledore is gay”, not because it isn’t great for Dumbledore to be gay, but because it is and if she wanted to address his sexuality, she should have done it in the books. To come out with the revelation as an after-fact made it reductive, with it appearing as something of a quest for publicity. At least that might have been an attempt to do something positive though, to come out and quibble about something as fundamental as the Harry/Hermione/Ron friendship group erases some of the magic of the series.

Love Heart Bookmarks

love heart bookmark card holder

Happy February! Can you believe we’re a whole month into 2014 already? Where has that time gone?

As it’s the season to be amorous, I thought I’d share some love heart bookmarks I made having been inspired by these cute paperclip bookmarks. I decided to use little wooden pegs instead of paperclips to allow me to use them to string postcards up and brighten up my desk, and they couldn’t have been easier.easy love heart bookmarks valentine

  1. Draw your heart shape on a piece of card and cut out using a scissors or a craft knife (if you want precision).
  2. Add your desired embellishments or decoration.
  3. Add some quick drying glue to your peg and join it to your love heart.
  4. Clip onto a piece of scrap card to hold in position as it dries.

Let me hear you sing it now, “Like a rhinestone love heart….” No?

Obviously you can play around with this and use different shapes, etc. but it’s a very easy emergency homemade Valentines gift… not that you’d ever need one of those.